For almost thirty years, probably for more than thirty years actually, our dad took the laundry to the Washeteria every Thursday.
The Washeteria ? The Laundramat, the self service coin-op laundry where single people who can’t be arsed with the hassle of owning a washing machine gather in an evening to sit and watch their dirty linen be literally washed in public for a couple of quid and another ten bob or so to dry it, unless you share with someone in which case its half the price and you sometimes get to take their lingerie home.
Why would our dad take the washing to the coin-op every week for thirty years when it would surely be sensible to purchase a proper washing machine and get our mum to do it, after all, laundry is not mens work and our dad was a stickler for what was and what wasn’t mens work, our mum took care of all of the household chores, he didn’t even lift his feet up when she hoover’ed – why then would he do the laundry ?
Truth is that we did have a washing machine, once.
It was a Hotpoint Twin Tub that pre-automatic washing machine saviour of womens red raw hands and arms, the miracle of the scullery that eradicated the use of the peggy tub and poss stick – what ?
You haven’t a clue of what I speak have you ?
Women a-scrubbin and thrashing around in a huge tin tub on a-wash day, hand scrubbing clothes, hand wringing and then drying outside, it all sounds so alien now doesn’t it – suffice to say that Mr Hotpoint put an end to all of that with his marvellous invention, the twin tub.
The twin tub would be dragged out of its hiding place under the kitchen worktop every Monday, connected to the cold water tap by a rubber hose and our mum would set off the manual cycle of wash then spin dry in the side-by-side twin tub configuration, all day it would take, but she was happy doing wimmins things and on weshday the twin tub was her domain.
Then one day when I was around ten years of age the twin tub broke.
Our dad asked around and was quoted a price by Washing Machine Repairman which was simply outrageous to him, our dad never spent money un-necessarily and spending good money on Washing Machine Repairman seemed ridiculous to him when he himself was a mechanical engineer, was from a family of mechanical engineers, why he’d repair the damn thing himself right there on the kitchen floor.
And so thats what he did, he took the back off, and as everyone knows, once you take the back off anything then you have to go through with it, you simply cannot call the repairman out once you’ve had the back off for he will stand there in your kitchen gazing down at pieces of your washing machine spread all over the kitchen floor, oily fingermarks smeared all over your kitchen cabinets and he will draw a long breath in noisily through his teeth and utter those words, “you’ve had the back off haven’t you ?” and add fifty quid to your bill.
When he had the back off and the innards spread all over the kitchen floor he discovered why the spin dryer wasn’t spinning any more, and lets face it, a spin dryer that doesn’t spin anymore is just a tub, while he had the innards out he discovered that one of the pulley wheels on the belt that drove the spin dryer – is this too technical for you – one of those pulley wheels had broken.
“I found whats wrong with it” he called out from the kitchen and we all trooped in from the living room to hear the news, “its this pulley wheel” he yelled enthusiastically, “its broken” he explained.
“So have you got another one” our mum asked, unconvinced and not as enthusiastic as our dad about seeing her twin tub innards spread all over the kitchen floor.
“Erm, no” replied our dad, “but I’ll make one”
We all laughed, but he was serious and he scoured the house for something that looked like a pulley wheel, a not so inconsiderable task as our house wasn’t exactly laden down with pulley wheel operated gadgets.
He found something in our mums sewing basket that he said would do the job.
It was a wooden spool of cotton, I wasn’t convinced and our mum wasn’t very happy to see him unspooling all of the cotton off the spool until he had a naked cotton spool left in his hand, “You want your twin tub fixing don’t you” he yelled at her disbelieving face.
He made the cotton spool fit by filing bits off other bits and tinkering with some meccano brackets that he had liberated from a meccano ferris wheel that I had built and when he’d finished the drive belt was back in position on the spin dryer mechanism and there was no going back now, Washing Machine Repairman would have died laughing if he’d seen the “modifications” that our dad had made inside the twin tub to enable a cotton spool to drive the spin dryer.
The moment of truth, we all stood the twin tub upright again from its prone position on the floor and then he plugged it in and gingerly turned the knob on the spin dryer to “slow spin”, it started to turn.
It spun just fine on “slow spin”, on “slow spin” there was no problem and the grin on our dads face grew wider and wider as he mentally totted up the hundreds of pounds that he imagined that he’d saved by not calling in Washing Machine Repairman.
Like a test pilot on his first flight in a brand new groundbreaking supersonic aircraft he reached out, hesitated, then turned the dial to “medium spin”, the motor revved, the spin dryer gained speed, a whining noise grew louder and louder, it turned into a screeching noise so that we had to cover our ears, the spin dryer was spinning at an incredible speed now, the cotton spool seemed to have supercharged it, then there was smoke from the back of the Hotpoint Twin Tub, then there was a loud bang and the spin dryer stopped spinning and part of a cotton spool rolled across the kitchen floor while we all stood and stared at it.
“Go get another cotton spool” our dad said to me, then turning to our mum, “you can only use it on slow spin” he instructed, “don’t ever turn it higher than slow spin or you might kill yourself”.
It lasted for a week while our mum tried to dry the washing on a slow spin, so our dad raided the sewing box again and unraveled another spool of cotton to fix the spin dryer, our mums sewing box started to resemble a huge big multi-coloured ball of tangled cotton thread and by the time christmas came we’d run out of cotton spools and she was having to go to the sewing stall on Leeds market every weekend just to keep the washing machine going.
If we’d have laid all of the loose cotton thread in our house in a continuous line then it would have stretched to the farthest part of the known universe, and probably back again and eventually our dad got fed up of taking the back of the twin tub every week and decided that he’d take the washing down to the coin-op laundry.
“Why can’t we just buy a new twin tub ?” our mum asked, it seemed like a sensible question.
“Don’t be ridiculous” our dad snorted, and that was the end of the affair.
The twin tub had beaten him but he would not back down and buy a new washing machine and the pay-back for this stubborn-ness was that it was he who had to go to the coin-op laundry every week, on his way home from work on a Thursday night he went until a young asian lad took over the running of the coin-op and offered to do our washing for our dad for two shillings – from then on the washing bag was left at the coin-op on a Thursday and collected by our dad that evening on his way home from work – for thirty years he did that, our dad and the young asian lad grew old together washing our dads underpants and the young asian lad built a coin-op empire on the strength of our dad taking his washing in there every week for thirty years.
If only those cotton spools had been made of metal instead of wood…